Friday, July 28, 2023

Stars of Chaos: Sha Po Lang Vol. 1 by Priest: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Stars of Chaos by Priest

Stars of Chaos is Chinese BL fantasy set in a slightly more modern alt-history Empire than the other books in the genre I’ve read. Westerners (spearheaded by the Pope!) have established trading and diplomatic relations with the Empire, and there’s new, exciting steam technology powered by violet gold. There are airships—with kites instead of balloons—and automatons among other things. The army especially makes use of these inventions, keeping the Empire powerful. But everyone covets the violet gold, making it worth wars and treachery.

Chang Geng is thirteen when barbaric northerners invade his small rural town, breaking a peace that’s lasted fourteen years, to stop the Empire draining their huge reserves of violet gold. But their presence in his town isn’t random: they want Chang Geng.

Turns out, Chang Geng’s life has been a lie, and he’s a more important person than he thought. Not that he believes a word of it, a great cause of internal conflict for him. But even worse is to learn that his godfatherso elected because he once saved Chang Geng’s lifeisn’t who he’s claimed to be either.

Chang Geng is whisked off to the Empire’s capital to live with his godfather there. The story follows the pair trying to come to terms with their new life as a family. Gu Yuo is utterly unsuitable for a father figure; he’s too young and selfish, and he’s mostly absent with the army anyway. But when, at fifteen, Chang Geng tests his limits by setting off to see the world, Gu You follows, only for the pair to stumble on a coup.

The story is advertised as a boylove romance, and it’ll likely head there eventually. In this first volume, Chang Geng rather abruptly becomes aware of his feelings for his godfather, a cause of great agony for him. Gu Yuo, however, sees him only as a child, and isn’t interested in men anyway. He has his own troubles to deal with, issues that he hasn’t shared with Chang Geng, making the boy mistrust him.

Chang Geng and Gu Yuo were interesting characters, more nuanced than in average web novels. The side characters were fun and had a proper role in the story. Narrative was more coherent too, with no internal inconsistencies that so often plague these stories. Either it’s written as a novel and not serialised first, or it’s been properly edited for a book.

I don’t know how many volumes there are in the story, but if each take only a couple of years of their lives, it’ll be a long time before it reaches the romance part. But I’m here for it.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Resonance Surge by Nalini Singh: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Resonance Surge by Nalini Singh

Resonance Surge is already book 7 in Psy-Changeling Trinity series and we’re back in Moscow with bears. Which is as it should be.

Yakov is a laid-back bear-changeling who has inherited the ability to see future from his F-Psy great-grandfather. All his life, he’s seen visions of a woman he knows is his mate. But now the visions have changed and she dies in all of them.

Theodora Marshall is a low gradient Psy and a great disappointment to her brutally ambitious family, especially her grandfather Marshall Hyde, the villain in the original series, now dead. If she weren’t deeply connected with her brilliant twin Pax, she would’ve been killed already as a child. The family has kept them separated and made a use of her as they’ve seen fit.

Now that he’s in charge of the family, Pax sends Theo to Moscow to unravel the family’s dark secrets. Yakov is ordered to be her bodyguard, and the connection that has existed since his childhood brings them fast together. But it turns out that this particular family secret is very personal for Theo.

This was an excellent book, with a good balance between the fun and the mystery. Yakov and Theo made a good couple, even if the romance happened a bit fast. She had a lot going on as she tried to make peace with her past and he was her stalwart support.

There was also a secondary romance, between Yakov’s twin Pavel and E-Psy Arwen Mercant, which has been going on for a couple of books already. It’s a nice, uncomplicated romance, which is probably why it never made its own book. At the beginnings of the chapters, we follow a heart-breaking story from the past during the time the Psy first implemented Silence protocol. And there’s a buildup for Pax’s story, which might end with him becoming the villain of the series—or the saviour.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Golden Terrace vol 1 by Cang Wu Bin Bai: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Golden Terrace vol 1 by Cang Wu Bin Bai

Golden Terrace is Chinese m/m romance set in an imaginary Chinese empire in a distant past. It’s not wuxia/xianxia fantasy; there are no extravagant martial arts scenes, cultivation sects, magic or supernatural elements. It’s historical romance with court intrigue and political machinations.

Fu Shen is a third-generation leader of cavalry troops that have kept the empire safe for decades. At 23, he’s revered and feared. When he is badly injured in an ambush, the emperor seizes the opportunity to order him back to the capital, ostensibly to recuperate, but in reality, it’s to weaken his influence.

For a further measure, the emperor orders Fu Shen to marry a man so that his family line can’t continue. The husband (or wife) to be is Yan Xiaohan, 25, a feared general of the imperial investigator guard that the emperor uses as his secret police. For him, the marriage is yet another step up in his slow path to the top, whereas Fu Shen opposes it. It doesn’t help that the two don’t really get along.

But Fu Shen is in for a surprise when it turns out Yan Xiaohan is determined to look after him in his convalescence. And as he remembers events from their past, he and the reader realise that there is more to Yan Xiaohan than his reputation.

The romance unfurls slowly. Most of the attention is in several mysteries. Fu Shen wants to find out who organised the ambush and why. Yan Xiaohan has to investigate odd deaths in rivalling imperial troops, a mystery that seems to implicate Fu Shen. And at the background there’s court intrigue and machinations of an emperor who isn’t ready to die just yet.

The mysteries didn’t always follow logic or make sense to a western reader. The bad guys sprang from nowhere and the actions and investigations seemed rather random. There were side characters that went unused as plot devices, like Fu Shen’s sister, the wife of a prince, who made a brief appearance, never to be mentioned again. And the romance seemed to happen behind the scenes. The reader had an impression a lot had taken place behind the closed doors, only to learn at the end that the marriage hadn’t even been consummated yet.

I had some issues with the translation as well, especially when it came to indicating the speakers. At times it was really difficult to figure out who was acting or thinking and who was the object of action when only the pronoun he was used for both in the same sentence and paragraph. I dont know if the same happens in the original text, but the translator could have used given names at several places to make the narrative clearer. 

Nevertheless, the story and the main characters were compelling, and the atmosphere and the historical setting were interesting enough to make this a pleasurable read that I found difficult to put down, transforming a three-star read to a five-star one. The first volume ends at a natural point without a cliffhanger. I’ll definitely read more.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Three Oaths by Josh Reynolds: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Three Oaths by Josh Reynolds

Three Oaths is the fourth Daidoji Shin mystery set in the Legend of Five Rings game world. It’s an Asia inspired historical world where same sex marriages are allowed and women can become army generals, samurais, and sumo wrestlers. Like with the earlier books, knowledge of the game isn’t at all necessary, as the game doesn’t play any role in the series. There is some continuity between the books, and the characters and settings will be more interesting if one has read the earlier books, but its not entirely necessary.  

The powerful Lion clan in the City of the Rich Frog is preparing for a wedding. But Lady Minami (whom we met in the first book) believes the groom isn’t who he claims to be, and she asks Shin, the no-good trade envoy of the Crane clan turned theatre owner to investigate. He agrees, on a condition that he’s allowed to plan the wedding too. She’s more than happy to let him.

The mystery reminded me of The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davies, a true 16th century account of a man convincing the entire family and village of his presumed wife that he was the husband who had abandoned her ten years earlier, only to be thwarted by the return of the real husband. Here, Itagawa Mosu has been taken captive by the pirates, only to return as a broken and altered man to claim his role as the groom to the powerful Akodo family. Some people are happy to believe he is who he claims to be, others are less so.

Shin soon discovers that there is more to the mystery than the true identity of the groom. There is a conspiracy afoot, but by whom and to what end. This and the wedding preparations keep him, his bodyguard Kasami, and manservant Kitano busy. Like before, the solution isn’t so much about justice as it is about compassion and avoiding a clan war.

This was again a slow and meandering mystery where the people Shin encounters are at front. Most of the book is from Shin’s point of view, with some chapters by Kasami and Kitano, but we don’t get the other players’ points of view this time round, which was for the better. Shin and Kasami spent most of the book in different locations, so we were robbed of their banter, but a bodyguard borrowed by Lady Minami proved to be a suitable replacement.

The wedding preparations are easily as diverting as the mystery itself, and on top of it, there’s personal trouble brewing for Shin in the form of the accountant sent by his powerful grandfather. It may be that Shin’s carefree days as a bachelor are over. I’m looking forward to finding out how he wiggles himself out of it this time, or if he is saddled with a wife or a husband. I’m hoping for a handsome Dragon lord myself.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.